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Emblem books collection

Identifier: ubl083

Scope and Contents

The University Library holds c. 539 emblem books, including those from the library of the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde and the Bibliotheca Thysiana, printed between 1543 and 1891. The library of Johannes Thysius holds a considerable number of emblem books. There are, for instance, the 1591 and 1594 Leiden editions of Alciatus' Emblemata, published by Plantin's son-in-law Franciscus Raphelengius. Also present are the second Plantin edition of Sambucus' Emblemata (Antwerp, 1566), and the first Leiden edition of the Emblemata by Hadrianus Junius (1585). The latter is bound with Claude Paradin's Symbola Heroica (Antwerp, 1563). There are also several collections of imprese on the Thysiana shelves by, amongst others, Felice Benedetti (Aquila, 1599), Scipione Bargagli (Bologna, 1591), Camillo Camilli (Venice, 1586) and Giulio Cesare Capaccio (Naples, 1592). In Thysius' library, there is a marked emphasis on emblematical works from Italy, Spain and France. Examples include Achille Bocchi's Symbolicamm quaestionum (Bologna, 1574), bound with Georgette de Montenay's Emblematum christianorum centuria (Zurich, 1584), Diego de Saavedra Fajardo's influential Fürstenspiegel, which is present in the first Latin edition, Idea principis christiano-politici (Brussels, 1649), Juan de Horozco y Covarrubias' Emblemas morales (Segovia, 1589), Horapollo's Hieroglyphica (Augsburg, 1595), Joannes Pierius Valerianus' Hieroglyphica (Basel, 1556), Jean Baudoin's Recueil d'emblemes divers (Paris, 1638-39) and the Devises heroiques et morales by Pierre Le Moyne (Paris, 1649).

The Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde contains ca. 260 emblem books. A large number (70) of works by Jacob Cats are present.

There are numerous rare and remarkable items in the Leiden collections of emblem books, such as Hieronymus Sperling, Trojano regio principi Paridi delatum praerogativae iudicium (Augsburg, [ca. 1740]) and a 1786 Hamburg edition of Jacob Cats' Monita amoris virginei. In the copy of Jacob Cats' Proteus (Rotterdam, 1627) and of the Emblemata amatoria by Daniel Heinsius (n.p., n.d. [ca. 1605]), remarkable coloured plates can be found. The 1632 The Hague edition of Jacob Cats' Spiegel van den ouden ende nieuwen tijdt, probably presented by the author to J. Rovetius, has numerous editorial notes and additions in the author's hand.


  • Creation: 1543-1891

Conditions Governing Use

The books are for use only in the Special Collections Reading Room.

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.


539 books

Language of Materials


Abstract in Dutch

Collectie bestaande uit 539 embleemboeken, inclusief die uit de Bibliotheek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde en de Bibliotheca Thysiana, gedrukt tussen 1543 en 1891.

Abstract in English

Collection consisting of 539 emblem books held by the University Library, including those from the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde and the Bibliotheca Thysiana, printed between 1543 and 1891.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

See: A.S.Q. Visser, P.G. Hoftijzer, B. Westerweel (eds.), Emblem books in Leiden. A catalogue of the Collections of Leiden University Library, the 'Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde' and Bibliotheca Thysiana. Leiden 1999.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Most emblem books in the collection of the University Library were acquired not intentionally by the consecutive librarians, but they came as gifts and bequests or through the purchase of parts of private libraries. The Nomenclator, the first printed catalogue of the collection of Leiden University Library, mentions only two emblem books, namely Emblemata of Hadrianus Junius (Leiden, 1585) and Joannes Sambucus' Emblemata et aliquot nummi (Leiden, 1584), and these were donated to the library by Leiden magistrates as part of a collection of books given to the town by Christopher Plantin in 1585. The edition of Alle de wercken of Jacob Cats (Amsterdam, 1655) was given by the author. Paolo Aresi's Delle imprese sacre con utili (Verona, 1615) and Giovanni Ferro's Teatro d'imprese (Venice, 1623) were acquired in 1690, when the curators bought the complete library of the great Dutch scholar Isaac Vossius (1618-1688). Les entretiens d' Ariste et d'Eugene by Dominique Bouhours (Amsterdam, 1671) and Horapollo's De Sacris Aegyptiorum notis, aegyptiace expressis libri duo (Paris, 1574) were part of the library of the Huguenot writer, publisher and journalist Prosper Marchand (1678-1756), who bequeathed his books and manuscripts to the University Library. Johannes Goropius Becanus' Opera (Antwerp, 1580) and Henricus Engelgrave's Lux evangelica sub velum sacrorum emblematum recondita (Antwerp, 1657) originally belonged to the library of the Remonstrant seminary in Rotterdam, which was given to the University Library on a long-term loan in 1878. There are also several emblem books in the Leiden collections which can be connected to Bonaventura Vulcanius (1538-1614), professor of Greek in Leiden. He may have given his copy of Horapollo's Hieroglyphica (Augsburg, 1595) to the Leiden polyhistor Johannes de Laet. Johannes Thysius added the book to his collection, when he bought it at the auction of De Laet's library in 1650.

In 1887 W.C.M. de Jonge van Ellemeet bequeathed his rich collection of works by Cats, fittingly named Museum Catsianum, to the Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde. Another donation was the collection of approximately 4,000 theatrical plays donated in 1842. As the donor wished to remain anonymous, the works in question are marked by a vignette simply stating 'Geschenk van Tooneelstukken, 1842' (gift of plays). Another donation to the Maatschappij is the library of the philologist dr. Eelco Verwijs (1830-1880), consisting of twenty-four items.

Nicolaas Cornelis de Gijselaar (1792-1873), director of the Leiden Print Room, donated various emblem books, such as Jan Harmensz. Krul, Pampiere wereld (Amsterdam, 1644), and Florentius Schoonhovius, Emblemata […] partim moralia, partim etiam civilia (Gouda, 1618).


The library continues to enlarge the collection at book auctions.


  • A.S.Q. Visser, P.G. Hoftijzer, B. Westerweel (eds.), Emblem books in Leiden. A catalogue of the Collections of Leiden University Library, the 'Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde' and Bibliotheca Thysiana. Leiden 1999.


The books can be requested in the online catalogue.

Processing Information

In 1990, professor Bart Westerweel initiated the project of cataloguing the collection of emblem books of Leiden University Library. This resulted in a Provisional Short-Title Catalogue in 1993. A definitive catalogue was begun in 1997, when Arnoud Visser was awarded a research grant by the Leiden Faculty of Arts, under the editorial supervision of Bart Westerweel and Paul Hoftijzer. This catalogue was published two years later (Visser, 1999).

Collection guide of the emblem books collection (1543-1891)
Collectie embleemboeken
Anton van der Lem, 2006
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note
This finding aid has been written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857